Every month, Jessica Curtis leads a new class at the Westerville Public Library that demonstrates how much the "Information Age" has changed readers' habits and expectations.

Every month, Jessica Curtis leads a new class at the Westerville Public Library that demonstrates how much the "Information Age" has changed readers' habits and expectations.

After winning a Nook e-reader at a library conference, Curtis is now the in-house expert on the device, as holiday sales of new tablets and e-readers have propelled e-book borrowing at many of the nation's libraries.

While the course on using apps, browsing the Internet and reading eBooks is one of many offered to Westerville library patrons, it has by far become one of the most popular programs. In December, Curtis welcomed 43 people to her class.

"What I hear from most people is that they didn't know they could do this or they think only the classics are available," Curtis said. "But the latest James Patterson novel is available. All you need is a device and an active library card that's in good standing."

At many major public libraries, demand for e-books more than doubled last December, compared to the same period in 2010. The Westerville library, which is a member of the Ohio eBook Project, saw a 125-percent increase in usage, according to deputy director Karen Albury.

Westerville library customers checked out 21,735 e-books in 2011, the third-highest usage in the state.

Launched in 2005, the Ohio eBook Project is a consortium of almost 80 libraries, which provides downloadable e-books, audiobooks, music and video to library patrons. The collection includes more than 31,000 copies of more than 19,000 individual titles.

Westerville began offering downloadable books in 2008.

"We knew that our customers were very interested in e-books, but we didn't know the interest would be that high," Albury said. "People still like the physical, printed books, but they're so pleased to have another free alternative."

Downloadable borrowing works very much the same as checking out a printed copy.

Only so many patrons can have a copy of a specific work at the same time. Books can be kept from 14-21 days. Waits can be long for more-popular books, but email notification lets customers know when a work is available.

"If you have a library card, you can access books from anywhere in the world," Curtis said. "We have a lot of 'snowbirds' who came in to make sure their account was active before they left."

But not all books are available in all formats, she said, and when or if an author's work appears in libraries is up to the publisher.

E-books accounted for 6.4 percent of all publishing in 2010, according to the American Association of Publishers, and 114 million e-books were sold that year.

The challenge for publishers is not giving away too much of the product. Some publishers won't provide borrowing licenses for new e-book titles because they're mainly concerned about piracy of copyrighted content.

Libraries also face dwindling budgets, although Westerville residents last November approved a levy that will help restore previously cut programs, Sunday hours, staffing and materials purchasing.

In 2007, the library saw its state funding cut by more than 30 percent.

Most libraries still spend only a fraction of their annual budgets for new titles on e-books. Westerville expects to spend more, Curtis said.

"No library can afford to go out and buy entire selections again," she said. "That's why consortiums were formed."